March 15, 2011

Wind turbines gain little interest in Bay area

Courtney Flynn, Associate Editor, The Voice, 15 March 2011

Although local municipalities are looking to enact ordinances to regulate the use of wind turbines, local officials said the public hasn’t shown much interest in wanting to erect them in their yards.

The city of New Baltimore recently approved an ordinance that says a wind energy conservation system will be specifically prohibited in all residential zones and central business. However, with proper permits, inspections and the meeting of specific requirements, an interested person can place one on their property, according to the ordinance.

Chesterfield Township is also in the process of drafting a similar ordinance to ensure if a wind turbine is erected it meets proper requirements.

Despite the efforts to enact such ordinances, New Baltimore Building Inspector Greg Nikkel and Chesterfield Township Planning Director Janice Giese said there haven’t been any formal requests for windmills to be placed in their municipalities.

Giese said a few years ago her office received several inquiries from residents interested in using wind turbines as alternative energy sources, but those questions quickly stopped.

“I think a lot of people were finding out it wasn’t that beneficial,” she said.

The Harrison Township industrial services company, Electrex Industrial Services, uses two wind turbines to produce a portion of their energy. They supply them to buyers as well.

Larry Page, a project manager at Electrex, said they first purchased their two wind turbines in 2001 and use them to help cut back on the amount of energy they need to purchase from Detroit Edison and as emergency generators. Although these renewable energy producers have been in use for 10 years, Page said they still haven’t seen the full payback.

“The payback is long,” he said.

Depending on what type of wind turbine is purchased and what type of grants the consumer receives, Page said the payback time can range anywhere from five to 15 years.

Since the payback is long, and the average price of a residential type wind turbine is $18,000, Page said there hasn’t been a lot of interest from homebuyers. He said municipalities and schools are currently the most typical buyers.

Michigan State Extension Bio-economy Innovation Counselor Mark Seamon said even though wind turbines can be quite expensive buyers often look past the cost for personal reasons.

“In general, people are interested in self-sufficiency,” Seamon said on why most homeowners are interested. “There are definitely other reasons beyond financial.”

Giese said she can understand the benefits of a wind turbine and why someone would be interested but said she was unsure how conducive the weather in the Bay area may be for producing wind energy.

“With Lake St. Clair you’d have to put them in the middle,” Giese said jokingly.

Seamon said while there are areas in Michigan that produce more and better wind energy than others, this Midwestern state as a whole has the ability to provide a lot of wind power.

“In general, Michigan has better wind than many other states because of the Great Lakes,” he said.

Despite the possibility to gain 30 to 40 percent energy efficiency from the use of a wind turbine, the Bay area has yet to succumb to this long-term payback commitment. With that in mind, Nikkel said it is still important to have an ordinance in place just in case. He said the turbines can be quite heavy and large, which is why it is important for an inspector to determine if a home’s structure could support the device. Determining where it would fall, and making sure it wouldn’t destroy any other neighboring structures if it did, is another reason why Nikkel said proper inspection and permits are required.

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